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The Dongxiang people (autonym: Sarta or Santa (撒尔塔); ) are one of 56 ethnic groups officially recognized by the People's Republic of Chinamarker. Most of the Dongxiang live in the Linxia Hui Autonomous Prefecturemarker and surrounding areas of Gansumarker Province in northwestern China, while others groupings can also be found in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, Qinghaimarker Province, and Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region. According to the 2000 census, their population numbers 513,805.The Dongxiang are Chinese Muslims of Mongol descent mixed with various ethnic groups in the region.

Origin and development

The Dongxiang are closely related to the Mongoliansmarker. Scholars speculate that their identity as an independent ethnic group arose through contact with Central Asians, due to whom the Dongxiang converted to Sunni Islam in the 13th century.

One possible origin is that they are descendants of Mongolian troops posted in the Hezhou area by Genghis Khan (1162-1227 AD) during his journey westward, while another possibility is that they could be a mixture of many peoples including Mongolian, Han, and Tibetan groups.

Their autonym, sarta, may also provide a contradictory clue to their origin: a similar word Sart was formerly used in Central Asia to refer to Arab traders , later to the local (mostly) Turkic-speaking city dwellers. Their official name of Dōngxiāng meaning "eastern villages" stems from the fact that their settlements are east of the major Han Chinese settlements.

Economy

The base of the economy of Dongxiang is agriculture. The main products are potatoes, maize and wheat. They are also recognized craftsmen, specializing in the elaboration of traditional carpets.

Language and education

The Dongxiang speak Dongxiang language, a member of the Mongolic family. The Dongxiang people also have a rich tradition of oral literature, but do not have their own writing system.

As a result of the language shift, some 20,000 people in several villages in the northeastern Dongxiang County now speak the so-called "Tangwang language": a creolized version of Mandarin with a strong Dongxiang influence, in particular in its grammar.

Government statistics show that the Dongxiang are among the poorest and least literate of China's minorities, with most Dongxiang having completed only an average of 1.1 years of schooling, a problem aggravated by the lack of a written language.

In 2004, the Ford Foundation provided US$30,000 in grant money for a pilot project to promote bilingual education in Dongxiang and Mandarin, in an effort to reduce school drop-out rates. The project is credited with the publication of a Dongxiang-Chinese bilingual dictionary as well as recent rises in test scores.

References

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